Days of Love Forgotten

February 14th, 2017
Columbus, Georgia
9:00 PM

Last night, the fever seem to break on this viral fever I had (not flu, as it turned out). I felt well enough to go into work for a little bit, then came back home to work the rest of the day; however, by about 2:00 in the afternoon it was evident that my wife now had contracted this same illness.

I gave her a Valentine’s bag (her favorite Jelly Beans, some Chocolates, and her biggest wish, a bag of Logan’s Turnpike Mill Grits). After our daughter picked up her 20 month old, I ran out and got my wife some soup. She ate a few bites, then went to bed.

For all of you singles dreaming of Valentine’s day with the person you love – sometimes it’s like this.

We started a tradition of taking a vacation in January of last year (2016). We had something like 12 hours in the car on the way there. We talked the entire way.

She has a career, and she keeps our grandkids. Her career involves looking after people, as well, many of them elderly. I get up early, go to work early, go to bed early. We have had a Thursday date night every week straight for something like sixteen years, but still, there’s much going on with each of us we never get the chance to talk about.

Last year, I booked a special short trip for our Anniversary in August. There, she ate the aforementioned Turnpike Grits, informing me (as a grits connoisseur) that these were the best grits ever, and that she had to learn how to make them. Only I forgot to get them for her for Christmas.

The subject came up (gently) while we were in the car for this year’s January trip. It got taken care of.

It amazes her that, after sixteen years of marriage, we haven’t run out of things to talk about. Part of that is how rarely we actually get to talk. The other part is that when we are finally together, and can focus completely on each other, it’s like a new experience almost every time.

One of my favorite lines in any movie is in the old 1940’s film “The Best Years of Our Lives”. The daughter of this couple is telling her parents they couldn’t possibly understand her love for her (married) boyfriend, because they (her parents) never had any trouble. Her mother answers her daughter, while looking at her father, thus:

“We never had any trouble.” How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me; that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?

Having to fall in love all over again. That puts it perfectly.

I don’t have answers for people who are lonely on Valentine’s Day. I have empathy, however. Because I’m fortunate to be where I am, and I won’t be there forever. I don’t want days of love to become days of love forgotten.

Remember, love is like light: so much more than we give it credit for; able to find its way in through every crack and crevice, there for us when we least expect it.

You are loved, my friends. You are.

Happy days.

Infomercials

For 25 consecutive days now, I have made it to the gym that is exactly 1.4 miles from our house. Weekday mornings, I’ve been arriving there around 4:00 AM, a few hours later on the weekends. There are televisions on there, and, it being a time of morning officially designated as “Ungodly Early”, they are usually tuned to channels showing infomercials, i.e., commercials disguised as something like news stories. I never change the channels, no matter what channel they are on; I’m typically listening to music or stories, anyway. However, one can’t help but see them, and it has struck me that there is a lot to learn about people from infomercials, even if it isn’t exactly what the infomercials are selling.

The first thing you notice is exactly who companies think will be awake at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and the answer appears to be (a) old people and (b) lonely people. If we happen to be both old and lonely, that’s just a marketing bonus for them, I suppose. They sell things like LifeAlert, and motorized wheelchairs, and miracle hearing aids for the aged; marketing to the lonely appears to be a little more gender-specific, other than the online dating (or even hookup) services.

With men, the marketers would have you believe that, if you are lonely, it’s clearly physical. They market weight loss pills, and testosterone boosters, and panacea workouts, and cleanses, and diets towards men, clearly implying that, with the right physique (or sexual performance, frankly), one need never be lonely. Since we men are prone to believe that (in spite of what women tell us) I’m sure that form of marketing works.

With women, there is some common ground (notably cleanses and diets) but there are also fabulous skincare products (usually being sold by recognizable, and good-looking, celebrities), innovative makeup application, and weight loss products that differ in emphasis from what is presented as being primarily for men. With women, the ubiquitous message seems to be: look young, no matter what age you are, because “looking young” has been deemed better by… somebody, I’m not sure who, why are you asking? Since the “look young at all costs” cultural norm seems hardest to question for women, I’m sure that it, too, is an effective marketing technique.

I have nothing against any of these companies or products; having tried none of them, I could not reasonably opine as to their efficacy as a class. I’m not really at the gym to try to improve my appearance, I’m there to try to improve my mood, as regular exercise seems to have that effect, and it is a busy and stressful time at work and elsewhere.

I read out here on the blogosphere all the time that the way for men to reach women is more mental (or emotional) than physical — yet, men (as evidenced by infomercials) clearly believe the opposite to be true. If I search my own mind for reasons for this disconnect, I find that many men believe grown women will act the same way as girls. When I was a boy, it was hard to escape the observation that most girls preferred the same exact guys, frequently on either a physical or social basis. Over time, however, girls become women, and their criteria typically matures as well. Many men, however, think about women like boys do about girls.

There is also the rather more obvious deal where men expect women to think about men the way men think about women.

It’s always interesting when an idea or practice becomes widespread even though there is no evidence whatsoever that it actually works: for example, men yelling at women from cars. I feel pretty confident saying, that doesn’t work. It doesn’t stop it from happening though. I suspect the same is true of many of the online overtures men make towards women as well. They don’t work, but we do them anyway. Which is strange.

Of course, the whole business of marketing is built on the oddity that human beings can be maneuvered into continuing to do things even after they realize that those things don’t work. Which is another lesson from infomercials, I suppose.

I’m typically back home from the gym around 5:00 AM, give or take a few minutes. If I’m going to write at all, that’s when I have time to do it, because I am usually at work from around 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 to 9:00 at night. It will shock no one who reads this or my other blog to know, I write at speed and do absolutely no editing whatsoever; I only edit a piece if I happen to repost it. This piece has actually been accumulated over a few days of a paragraph here and a paragraph there.

I sometimes think my various blog posts are essentially infomercials, only I’m “selling” my own thoughts and feelings, portraying myself as more objective and thoughtful than I really am. In truth, I’m just a middle-aged man, huffing and puffing on a treadmill at 4:15 in the morning, trying half-heartedly to lead something like a healthy life, dreaming up ways of saying something out here so clever that people might remember it for a few minutes, if I’m lucky.

But maybe if I took Super Beta Prostate…

Reasons

[Originally posted March 24th, 2017. My mother passed away December of 2019. – Owen]

One of the things I love about abstract classical music is that the listener is free to graft any meaning onto the notes they choose. The last three times I have been out to Arizona to visit my aging mother, I have ended up listening to one piece of music or another that seems to capture what I’m feeling or experiencing. This particular time, it is the following, “joined in progress” as they say:

The Setup

On Monday of this week, I had the following text conversation with my sister:

I had called my mother and she told me she was tired of living the way she was, and was eating less as a way of gradually “letting go”. After our conversation, I told my wife that I was going to fly out and see her, texted my sister words to that effect, who told me to please keep her posted.

My mother has been, throughout her adult life, a fervent believer in the right-to-die movement, as was my father — one of the few things they agreed on, politically. I was not surprised by her actions as much as intensely saddened to realize how unhappy she was.

To outward appearance, my mother has everything a person could want. She in no way wants for money. She lives in an extremely affluent assisted living facility. She is universally beloved by the other residents and staff. She has a boyfriend she loves who loves her. She is a young looking 85 years old. Even though she has Parkinson’s and other health issues, she had appeared to be handling them all with as much humor as a person could manage.

However, the warning signs were there to see. She told me when I visited here three months ago that she had been struggling with depression. That the sheer number of medications she was on left her befuddled.

When I spoke to her on the phone, she told me that one particular health issue she had was so embarrassing that she’d rather not go on than have to live with it, as it had ruined her life.

As I spoke to my wife about flying out to see her, tears formed in my eyes. My mother was so unhappy she wanted to die: that’s about as unhappy as it gets. Maybe I had been kidding myself about what a great life she had.

I took a sleeping pill that night to get some rest. The next morning, I spoke to my boss about taking the time off, got it, then made plane, hotel and car reservations. I called my mom and told her I was coming for five days, then left my sister a message to that effect.

The Conundrum

Before I began availing myself of the wireless access on the plane, I sat thinking: what reasons do you give to someone to go on living when they do not want to? What reasons are there?

My own experience is that we don’t live for “reasons” we live because we feel like living. The desire to live is just that – a desire. You either have it, or you don’t.

My mother had deliberately chosen to live across the country from any of her children so as not to be a burden on any of us. Even though the three of us had each been to see her in the last three months, we all had very short (two day) stays. My feeling was, she missed seeing us, so maybe just going to see her would make her feel better. (The fact that she said “You’re coming for five days? Well, that should cheer me up,” was a pretty good clue.)

Reason is just a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. That’s another quote from a book I read recently, making the point that reason is only there to serve the emotions. My mother’s elephant was getting tired, she wanted to lay down.

All I knew was, I was going, and I was going to stay almost a week. What I’d find I wasn’t sure, but I thought sure it would be bad, whatever it was.

What I Found

What I found, upon arriving, getting my rental (which was torture) and driving down to where she lived was entirely baffling.

She seems fine.

We’ve now eaten four meals together. She has eaten at all of them. Her health does not seem any worse than last December; although her memory is poor, it seems better than most people there.

Her boyfriend, on the other had, who also has Parkinson’s, has degenerated horribly. He is also very temperate and good-natured — a “roll with the punches” kind of guy, as they say. It made me think that maybe part of her depression is realizing she’s liable to lose him, but I don’t know. She has made several oblique or direct references to “what she’s doing” as in, “The staff here don’t approve, of course, of what I’m doing.” – indicating that she is still in that gradually letting go process she described to me over the phone.

Still, we’ve laughed and talked about various things. We looked at pictures of her great-grandchildren, neither of whom she’s ever seen in person. We talked to my brother on the phone. We watched five hours worth of westerns yesterday – she had not been able to watch movies lately, as she cannot remember how to operate her DVD player. I taped instructions to the remote with labels to help, and she practiced several times while I was there. However, I know enough about short-term memory loss to know that this is unlikely to help once I’m gone.

Either her boyfriend or the staff would be happy to help anytime, and the staff is always available. She would have to think to call, though. What she’d been doing was stare helplessly at her DVD player,  overwhelmed with the realization that she could not figure out how to operate it.

When I texted my sister again, I said that at the rate she was going, she will have finished herself off (physically) by the year 2043. However, there is more to life than just our physical capability. She’s having a hard time remembering how to do simple things, things she’s done for years. She can’t really go anywhere. Even though she has company, this isn’t the life she wants, as she mentioned last night…

About Last Night…

“Moving from Florida to Arizona, leaving [35 years worth of] friends behind, was one thing. Losing your father [11 years ago], was another. Deciding to move here [into an Independent Living apartment within the retirement community she is part of 10 years ago] was still another. But moving from Independent Living to Assisted Living [14 months ago] was the biggest single change I’ve been through.

It’s now been more than 3 years since I had to stop driving; Ed [her boyfriend] had to stop last year. Do you know what it is like when you can’t drive? Even though they have people here who will take you places, you have to schedule it, and you may have to wait if other people are already using the drivers. Driving gives you so much power, and you don’t realize it until… until you lose it.”

Of everything you’ve lost, personally, I mean, in the way of capability — what do you miss most?

“Singing. I can’t even sing in the shower now. I can barely talk, my voice is so shaky.”

I’ll bet you can still recite hours of poetry, though.

[Ed indicated with vigorous nodding and that indeed she could.]

“Yes, well the number of people who want to hear ‘The Highwayman’ is surprisingly low,” she said, archly.

I looked around the dining room of the Assisted Living facility. The difference in the walker or wheelchair bound residents there versus the hale, healthy, tanned group from the Independent Living facility two blocks away was stark.

My father’s memory had started to go the last year of his life, and my mother always said it was a “blessing” that he didn’t have to live through the complete loss of the mental powers he had always been so proud of. She on the other hand, was living through her loss. Who was I to say she should want to?

On the other hand, who could really tell she was trying to end her life? The process was so subtle and gradual (eating less rather than not eating is what most people call “dieting”), and the only meds she was refusing were those that exacerbated her “embarrassing condition”.

Reasons

I rose at 4:00 this morning (don’t be alarmed, I always do that) and went for a three mile walk, listening to the Bartok String Quartet referenced at the beginning of this piece. After a period of harmony and disharmony, it ends with two voices together, much like my mother is ending her life.

I wish I understood anything about life. My own emotional elephant feels like its rider is blind, aimlessly trying to pull this way and that, not really knowing where he’s going. I love my mother, yet, throughout much of my life, I resented her for the degree of emotional distance she kept from me, or us. I realized with age that she was the product of a horrendously poor and violent upbringing, and had made the most possible out of it; and that she loved us according to the best she had to offer. Love is all the reasons: all the reasons there are, or could be.

I will be eating with her again, in an hour, and will we tell more stories, and laugh, and, yes, eat.

Because even tired elephants have to eat.

 

 

At Cemetery Ridge

[Originally published November 6th, 2016. S.R.]

I’m not alone at Cemetery Ridge this morning. There’s a thirty-year-old man here with what appears to be his ten-year-old daughter.

She lays a bouquet of bright yellow roses on a grave. As gray as the morning is, they stand out all the more. The only other color is the girl’s deep red coat.

He puts his hand on her shoulder, as she begins to cry, uncontrollably. He puts his arm all the way around her, as she sinks to her knees, and he follows.

I can’t stare at them anymore, it feels indecent. Instead I wander on from where I was visiting (my father-in-law’s grave) to some of the other friends we’ve lost these last years. One grave, a particular woman who I knew as a singer, is over where the trees grow thorny and wild. The gray and desolate morning only makes the trees look wilder.

This cemetery has a name, of course, but for as long as I can remember, people have called it “Cemetery Ridge”. This hill slopes down on the other side of the trees, and I can see the gray town in the distance. I visit this grave, and then two others, finally heading back to my car.

In the parking lot, I see the man and his daughter approaching their car. To my surprise, there is a woman wearing sunglasses waiting for them within it. I had assumed from what I saw that the man had lost his wife and the girl her mother; but, apparently not, as the woman has obviously been crying in the car. She’s holding a sort of shapeless stuffed animal.

Oh my God, she lost a child. The little girl lost a sibling: a sister, maybe, or a brother.

Now, my eyes are filling with tears. At that exact moment, just as the man finishes helping his daughter into the car and the arms of her mother, he turns and sees me, tears streaming down my face; and I could tell, in that brief moment, that he was concerned about me, and whatever grief might have brought me to this place.

His grief was my grief. My grief was his grief.

They leave within moments, driving slowly away. I stand by my car as a gray wind blows across the ridge, moving the leafless trees.

 


 

For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.

 

The Solace of Imagination

When imagination is the only thing in your life you can control, it can become everything.

Everything. And, anything.


When I was young, I first perceived “imagination” as a consolation adults offer to children when they’re unable to find other kids to play with. “Use your imagination,” they’d say.

“Think of ways to amuse yourself without bothering me,” they meant.

After a time, however, I realized that, even with friends to play with, imagination was needed. Otherwise, you play only the same old games, the same old way, which gets boring, frankly.


I started reading very young. As people who like reading instinctively know, a book is a like a friend, and one with a very good imagination, to boot. In addition, books spurred my imagination, although they also revealed a deficit in my particular imagination, namely, my inability to “picture” things in my head. Children’s books provide pictures, however, as do comic books, so for years — possibly including this year — children’s books comprise many to most of my favorite books.

It’s one of the reasons I use a photography service in my blogging. I’m inspired by the visual imagery of others, but unable to generate much on my own.


My sister had a collection of marionettes when we were growing up. Puppetry is still alive, of course, both as a practice and an art form. Still, in decades and centuries past, it would have been a necessarily larger part of the imaginative life of children.

When my sister left home for college, I temporarily moved into what had been her room; in it, I found boxes of marionettes. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before; being seven years younger than she was, it was quite possible she had enjoyed them most in times before me, or at least, my memory.

I remember that the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show made extensive use of puppets. So did Sesame Street, of course; but somehow, I never thought of the Muppets as puppets. The Mr. Rogers puppets were more old school traditional puppets.

I remember trying out some of my sister’s marionettes, but I couldn’t seem to create any sort of life in my manipulation of the strings and wires. My father saw me doing it, and boxed the valuable marionettes back up before I could do them mortal damage.

Which I no doubt would have.


A year and a half after my sister left home for college, my brother left for the army.

Even though he was five years my senior, we had been pretty close; or, at least, we had a good relationship. Now he was grown up and gone, and I was thirteen and very unsure of how family life was going to go, being the only kid left at home.

Books and comic books (particularly the latter, by this point) were my great solace. I had a hard time making friends at school, because, bluntly, I was a jerk. Gradually, I met other jerks (just kidding, I met kids with similar interests who tolerated my misanthropy), but most of them, too, loved books and comic books.

I was interested in girls by that point, as well, but few of them that I could find had much enthusiasm for comics, or indeed, for me. So now, imagination started serving another purpose, one I couldn’t really help at first. I found myself beginning to imagine being with girls.


You’ll often hear superhero stories described as “adolescent fantasies”, and believe me, for me, they were. I wanted to be impressive to girls, but reality wasn’t permitting that. However, in the world of my imagination, I could be.

It was all I had.

I remember my favorite fantasy, although I’m sort of embarrassed to tell it. I would imagine having the power to stop the rest of the world, i.e., to freeze everyone except me and the girl. Somehow, in my fantasies, if the rest of the world was just “stopped”, the girl would fall for me.

A better story, of course, would be her immediate and passionate attempts to get the rest of the world turned back on so she could continue her own fantasies, ones about pop stars and football players. Because she wasn’t having them about me.


Real life rarely goes exactly like we want it to, but made-up stories can. This is one of the chief solaces of imagination. As adults, we are expected to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, however.

In real life, we don’t have superhero powers. We’re all just human beings, presumably dealing with each other respectfully and as equals.

Or we should be.


A young woman friend of mine asked me, just two days ago, if couples that had been together as long as my wife and I have been still have troubles. I laughed.

“Yes, we do,” I said.

“Somehow, I always imagined that, when you get past a certain point, everything kind of smooths out.”

“I like that picture,” I said. “Yeah, it was touch-and-go there for a minute, but I hit, like,  fifty, and, now, everything’s great.

Now, she was laughing. “Are you saying what I imagined was silly?”

“Nothing we imagine is ever silly. Not really.”

Not really, indeed.

 

Memory Road

I lead a sort of Twilight Zone existence, in that I frequently think, as I’m turning onto a road I’ve never been on before, that I will, by turning there, get to visit a different time period of my life.

I found one such road today. Seeing scenery and homes and people for the first time reminds me of all the other first times I’ve had, when people long gone were still here, or when life was mostly a future thing.

We lived in Florida when I grew up; I now live in Georgia. However, my dad had a once a year trip here (where I am as I write this). He used to bring home photographs of this place, a beautiful set of gardens.

I am always expecting to see him on these drives, and I pull over to look at the flowers, which are stunning.

Many of you have lost a parent, or both parents; my dad is gone, but my mom is still here, just far away. I realized, recently, that both of them gave us (my sister, my brother, and me) everything they could of themselves, inside and out, and that I carry them around everywhere I go, really.

I stopped at a convenience store, really to use the bathroom, but I always try to buy something when I do. A very young woman was the only one working; their ice machine was broken and customers were complaining (it is almost 100 degrees today). I asked her how she was when I got to the front of the line (there was no one in line behind me) and she said she was having an anxiety attack. So I told her, if it would help, that (1) I didn’t need any ice (she laughed, which was a good sign) and (2) I could stand outside a few minutes and warn customers the ice machine was broken. She thanked me with a sort of watery smile. After about 15 minutes, when there was a lull, she came out and thanked me, and that she was feeling a little better.

“Hang in there,” I said. “You, too, sir,” she said.

Love is the recognition, I think, that we are really all the same. We live in time, people come and go, but all of us, everywhere and in every age, look for our loved ones, remember the best days, gain life by breathing in a garden, and need a little help, every so often.

So, maybe one day, you’ll be out driving in the country, and you’ll find a highway new to you, and we might see each other there. I’m the crew cut guy with giant sunglasses, you can’t miss me. Come up and say hi.

Then I’ll have a new first time to remember.

– Owen

My Real Life

“My Real Life”

3:00 in the morning, and I wake up like a shot. I look down at the time, then see that my wife is just now finishing up getting ready to come to bed. That happens fairly often with us; I’m getting up as she’s coming to bed.

I cough a few times, which is awkward, because I sleep hooked up to a CPAP machine. I don’t even know what “CPAP” stands for; I think it’s something like “Survival Kit for Fat People”, except it’s in Cyrillic. I disconnect myself from it and sit up, rubbing my eyes. Since I went to bed at 9:00, I got six hours sleep, and that will have to do.

I put on my glasses, disconnect my iPad and trudge off to the other end of the house. I see that I got a message from an online friend during the night, but my brain isn’t really functioning yet, so I say something inane back to her via text, then my wife comes in.

“Did I wake you up?”

“No, I was coughing.”

She tells me about the rough night one of our grandkids had (he got sick and threw up) and how she was on the phone with our daughter much of the night. We hold on to each other for a few moments, then she’s off to bed.

It’s 3:20 or so by this time, and I have a morning workout to do; however, I put that off for a few minutes while I ingest some caffeine and get caught up on my blog reader. I also edit my post that went up during the night (I changed the title for clarity), and repost that.

I also check my (two) Facebook accounts; I posted a video of me playing a piano piece on one of them, and I’m looking at comments and such. I once posted a video of one of my daughters and me playing a piece (she plays the cello) and that got, like, 100 likes; just me playing gets something like 12. This is what the system of “likes” does to you: it turns everything into a weird sort of contest. My stepdaughters, like my wife, are all ridiculously beautiful, which never hurts when you are posting pictures and videos: if it is both them and their kids, the response is even more enthusiastic.

This, in turn, leads to me to the recognition I had, years ago, that pictures of attractive women or beautiful scenery (or both) seem to attract more people to reading blog posts than anything else; hence, my frequent use of each. Which seems cheap and manipulative, now that I think of it in those terms.

Around 4:30, having delayed as long as I could, I change into my workout clothes and do today’s workout. It’s a short one, only about half an hour long, but it seems to be doing its job, as I feel terrible doing it, but pretty good afterwards.

I go back to the other end of the house and get out some clothes for work (being careful not to wake up my wife, who is sleeping blissfully) and then go back to shower in the bathroom near where I worked out.

I only shave the bottom of my neck, so that doesn’t take long; however, the sheer number of shaving mistakes I can make in a small area defies statistical likelihood.

I work as an officer at a large Fortune 500 company; this week is employee recognition week. Having dressed for work, and realizing it’s not even 6:00, I sit down to write, deciding, in this instance, to post the poem on Instagram.

Before leaving home around 6:30, I open the blinds so she wakes up to sunlight (her preference), take out the garbage, and bring in the newspaper. I also heard from the online friend I said something stupid to earlier (for those of you wondering about that particular plot thread). Online conversations can be odd in that they don’t necessarily have real beginnings or endings, and you never know if the other person is even there; or you just send your words out into the ether and rely on others to eventually respond.

My wife packs me a lunch most days. It’s really very good of her; it’s also really healthy. I pick it up (some of it is in the refrigerator, and some on the counter) and head off to work.

In the car, I’m listening to an audiobook of “The World as Will and Idea” by Schopenhauer. I just started it a few days ago. I loved this book when I read it, years ago; audiobooks seem to work better for me these days, so I will probably be listening to this for weeks.

It’s about a fifteen minute drive to work; I park in a parking garage and walk into work. The company I work for is rather large, but the location I’m at only has about eight or nine-hundred people. Most of the rest are in a larger facility across town, not counting ones spread across the country or concentrated overseas. I have a team of about 10 people who report to me; I’m responsible for doing financial forecasting for the company. I am an actuary by profession, according to the certificates beside my desk, and a mathematician by education, according to the degrees I have on the shelf behind it.

The short version of what I do is that I’m supposed to know what’s going on all over the company before it happens, so we can take appropriate actions and inform investors. I’m also supposed to remember everything that ever happened.

Now, at this point in time, you might be wondering: wait – you post (on NoTalentForCertainty.com) something like five poems a day. When do you find time to write?

I write mostly in the mornings; sometimes at night before bed, and at lunchtime, which I can do, having usually brought a lunch. I also write at speed (with frequent mistakes being the tell-tale sign) and usually edit only when I get around to reposting.

But, back to the company I work for. I was attracted to it, years ago (I’ve been here more than twenty years) because it did something I believed in (help people financially who are sick or injured) and because I like the company’s ethical stance, where the people running the company are genuinely more interested in doing the right thing than maximizing their own incomes.

I realized years ago, being “backstage” at this company as I have been, that no company like it has ever been described in any literature I’ve ever read. The art of politics, sadly, is often little more than organized calumny – and highly effective calumny, I might add. Most writing is shaped by some political viewpoint or another, and people in a large company being concerned about ethical issues just doesn’t seem to fit anyone’s idea of what companies do in the real world. But at least one does.

I don’t really have a “normal working day”, per se. I have a great deal of independence in terms of what I do, but I’m asked to analyze and answer a lot of questions of differing sorts, plus I’m just curious about other things, and spend a lot of time researching, analyzing, or synthesizing information that seems important to me to look at. I spend a fair amount of time discussing or conducting that work with others. My daughter (the same one that plays the cello) has now worked here more than five years; she commented, when she first started here, that everyone here seems to know me, which was pretty fair at the time. My job since then is much more insular and public; still, I know many hundreds of the thousands of people here, and work in some rotation with virtually all of them.

Incidentally, I missed saying it earlier, but I ate the lunch my wife packed me for breakfast on the way to work. So, at lunch time, I take a drive, listening to more Schopenhauer, dashing off one poem to post on NTFC, and eating in my car.

Back to work, and I work steadily until about 6:30, with one break around 2:15 when the little group of us went outside for a team photo. I look like a whale in the photos.

Alas for the merciless realism of the camera.

I get home st 7:00 pm and my eldest daughter is still there with her 2 year old boy and 7 month old girl my wife watches almost every day. They leave around 8, a few minutes later, my middle daughter drops off her 4 year old son, who has been sick, do she can run an errand. My wife watches him 5 days a week.

He’s just pitiful. He clings to my wife.

My wife, by the way, is something like a miracle. She’s a minister: teaching classes, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, and yes, preaching sermons. I play the piano and organ at the church she works for — which is where we officially met, 20 years ago this fall.

I took a shower and am writing this sitting on our bed. I realize, reading over what I just wrote, that I left off the part, during lunch, where my son texted me, asking for help with rent and electric.

Which I did.

I also finished my conversation with my online friend, to the degree text conversations ever really end. I’ve only made three or four friends from blogging, but they are all inspirational to me in different ways. My natural personality seems to largely consist of being very positive, except in reference to myself; every one of these friends have noted this trait and been puzzled by it.

As am I. I’m just more used to it.

When I go out to say goodnight, my grandson is asleep and my wife is sprawled across the sofa on her stomach, looking up remedies to send home with our daughter in a few minutes.

I’m very lucky to have her, my kids, my grandkids, my job, and all of you, for that matter.

This is my real life.

April, Maypole

I learned about Spring, as a child, with my educational sources still reflecting mystical attitudes about the seasons that go way back into antiquity.

I remember, in elementary school learning what was called a “maypole dance”. This “dance” consisted of walking slowly in a circle with other clueless kids, each holding a colored ribbon tied to the pole, then all turning around and walking in the opposite direction. It was like tetherball, both structurally and in how baffling to us it’s whole purpose was.

(We were also taught square dancing, too; giving me a head start on a humiliation caused by dancing that many only start to feel in their teens.)

I remember also covering Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths about Spring, many of which involved girls being dragged off to Hell, a fate many of my female classmates seemed sadly too acquainted with through being forced to participate in cotillion — getting their own head start on dancing hell.

More happily, I also remember learning that Easter was always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, which has proved useful ever since, since I’m apparently one of six people in all of North America who has the first idea how the date of Easter is arrived at.


Ambivalence is not the issue, or maybe it is.


In the spring, a young man’s fancy
May turn towards some thoughts romancy,
Or to baseball turn, instead —
If they have thought in their head

In the spring, young women’s heeding
May turn towards some new succeeding
Or may turn to instead to guys —
I’m not saying if that’s

Wise


Here are the lyrics to a song I learned when I was still a boy, called “The Turtle Dove”. The song dates back to the 1700’s. I’m including it for no other reason than that I like it.

Fare you well my dear, I must be gone and leave you for a while –
If I roam away I’ll come back again,
Though I roam ten thousand miles, my dear,
Though I roam ten thousand miles.

So fair though art my bonnie lass, so deep in love am I –
But I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till the stars fall from the sky, my dear,
Till the stars fall from the sky.

The sea will never run dry my dear, nor the rocks ever melt with the sun –
And I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till all these things be done, my dear,
Till all these things be done.

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove, he doth sit on yonder high tree –
A making a moan for the loss of his love,
As I will do for thee, my dear,
As I will do
For thee.

The Invisible Man At Target

I’m sitting in the parking lot of our local Target, way out on the edge, far away from most of the people.

I always seem to be in a parking lot, and I am almost always as far from people as I can get.

It’s hot today, hot and hazy. I’m out for my usual Sunday drive, and I stopped here to think, which I’m not all that good at.

A beautiful woman just got into the Jeep in front of me. There seem to be a lot of beautiful women here.

There seems to be a lot of them everywhere I go.

Even way out here on the edge.

Even though I drive a bright yellow car, I have long felt I was basically invisible. I drive to the local Target and I see hundreds of people, but I’m pretty sure none of them see me. So I’m ideally placed as an observer: seeing, but never seen.

You can see by the attached photo what I look like — if you noticed it at all. In real life, you’d walk right by me. Everybody does, except the people who actually know me.

As case in point as to my alleged invisibility, the woman with the Jeep proceeded to change her shirt in it, after looking around to be sure no one was there. I looked away when I realized what she was doing, but she hadn’t noticed me. I’m just talented that way.

There are fewer of these parking lots every year. Retail itself is changing rapidly, of course. I could see places like Dollar General putting Target out of business. That, and online distributors. But something will come along after those, as well.

Nothing human is permanent; we all know this. But we invest things with a type of permanence reflective of the intensity we feel about them.

I used to bring my kids here, and they loved it. Of course, they all loved Toys R Us, too, and now that’s going away. Just as I loved Sears, and my mother loved Woolworth’s, both of which are now gone.

A beautiful woman in a sundress just looked this way and smiled when she saw me. It’s one of my coworkers, out shopping with two of her children: I wave and she waves back. I’m sure we’ll talk about this at work tomorrow.

Well, it’s time for this invisible man and his bright yellow car to go. Not sure where, but they’ll no doubt be beautiful women there.

Ghosts

I have ghosts.

These ghosts aren’t the people from my past who I’ve known and lost. They aren’t even people from the past I’ve only read or heard about.

These ghosts are younger versions of me.

I look out the window of my office and I see myself, hurrying around the little walking trail adjacent, trying to figure out what to do about my drug-addicted twenty-year old son.

I walk out the front of the building, and I see myself, pacing before an exam, staring up at the tall building I now work in where the exams were administered.

Across the street, I see a much younger me eating at the old diner, in the very first week after we moved here – with a different wife (my ex) and our then-infant son.

A lot of our lives takes place within a few square miles: our joys, our heartbreaks, our meltdowns, even our sex. There are groceries stores we’ve walked miles in, church pews we’ve occupied, a couch we’ve watched 10,000 hours of television on.

But we change as we age. The play goes on, but our part changes, and the players change, as well. Sometimes we walk out on stage, only to realize we are in a whole different theater than we remember starting in. Or growing in.

My ghosts aren’t malignant. They don’t even notice me. They are fully wrapped up in the problems or experiences of their day. I’m just there observing. In a few short hours (it’s lunchtime right now), I’ll be back home, holding my baby granddaughter, who is very close to being able to crawl. I know she won’t be a baby much longer. One day I’ll see ghost me, holding her, smiling with her.

She, on the other hand, won’t remember.

Because, you see, what makes these “ghosts” is that I’m the only one who can see them, and I’m the only one who will ever see them. I write (and maybe you do, too) to try to recreate a little of my experience for you, in the hope I can’t faintly project a little bit of my ghost-world onto the walls of your cave.

But I can’t really expect you to look for long. All of you have ghosts of your own.

 

Down Broken Willow

Those two summers, we swam every day in the bayou “down Broken Willow”, as we said back home. There were different people there on different days, but always the three of us: my brother, his friend Danny, and me.

Being younger than the two of them by five years, I was assigned the lowest role in whatever games we were playing. The most common of these was to be a lookout for ski boats if we were playing too far from the tree or the shore. I also “got to” (it was a privilege, you see) chase and retrieve overthrown footballs, bring each of them towels, and go to shore to receive messages on behalf of the two of them (usually “come home”), and so on. I spent the better part of those two summers almost completely sunburned; the Florida sun pretty much laughs at things like t-shirts and sunblock.

Even though they used me as a lackey, a nine-year-old boy is pretty lucky when his fourteen-year-old brother will let him hang out, and I realized that at the time. All of that ended sometime during the next year, as my brother withdrew into his own world, a place he’s never really returned from in the forty-six years since.

My wife asked me last night why my brother and I never talk; I don’t really have an answer, other than that we’ve been having the same conversation for decades, and it never really varies. He tells me little to nothing about his own life, even when asked specifically, and has no interest in mine. We can relive the old days, though, laughing at the old stories; he still thinks its funny the errands he used to send me on, and the fatuous reasoning he’d use to justify it. And it is kind of funny.

Sometimes, you love someone, like a brother, but can’t really connect with them, except on some old ground. Maybe if he and I went swimming, back in our old neighborhood, we could still interact as though our lives had some ongoing commonality. But there doesn’t seem to be one.

Not every estrangement in life comes from anything bad really happening: sometimes, it’s just distance and difference, and you find yourself facing a stranger — one you love, but, who you no longer really know — if you ever really did know them.

With my brother, I’m not sure I ever did.

Louise

I get all of that. But why was she there?

What?

Why was she there, with you? What was her story?


I was seventeen, and hanging out at a hospital waiting for my mom. They said it would be about three hours, then she’d be out and I could drive her home.

Restless, I decided to take a walk through the hospital. I passed a large waiting area, and saw a face I recognized: a blonde girl from my Analytical Geometry class whose name I didn’t know. Her foot was in a cast.

Walking back by again a few minutes later, she saw me, so I stopped.

“Hi. What happened to you?”

”I run cross-country, and broke my ankle training,”she said ruefully. “It’s Tom, isn’t it? Your name?”

“Owen,” I said. “And you’re — Sherri?”

”Louise,” she said.

“Louise — you’re the girl who finished 2nd in the state, aren’t you?”

”Yes. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to really run on this again. And aren’t you the guy who got into a fist fight with Charles in the lunchroom last year?”

”It wasn’t much of a fight, right next to the coaches’ table,” I said. “I think his one punch hit me in the shoulder.”

“We all hated you,” she said. “Charles would never hurt a fly.”

”Unless it was on my shoulder,” I said.

She laughed.

”The fight certainly wasn’t his fault,” I added. “Fights happen. Do you have brothers?” I asked.

”I have three sisters, and one little brother,” she said. “My parents stopped when they finally had a boy. What about you?”

”One of each, both older.”

”So you’re the baby?”

”We were all babies at one time, even my parents. We sort of took turns.”

She laughed again. “You aren’t at all what I expected.”

”Oh, and what am I supposed to be?”

”The angry, brooding, dangerous type, you know. The kind that drives the girls wild.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “You’re not exactly who I pictured, either, for our State runner-up. I had no idea that was you.”

”I know I’m not exactly built like a runner. I’m a lot more top-heavy,” she added musingly.

I blushed. She certainly was.

We talked for two-and-a-half more hours.


So, I was easy to talk to, and I could make her laugh. 

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

My mind doesn’t work that way.

You don’t think she thought you were good looking?

Yes, I believe she did. I had changed my look that summer, and I was feeling pretty good about it. I was a complete surprise to her.

How long was it after that you started dating?

Let’s see… that was June, and our first date was Homecoming, which was in October. I had never been on a date, at that age, although I went on my first one within a week or two of that conversation. We had Calculus together, although we still sat with our old crowds in class. Our friends seemed surprised we were friendly, or even knew each other. We would talk a little, some days, after class.

What did she see in you?

I wrote about that, you know I did. I was all wrong for her: an underachiever, a rebel. She was from a family of high achievers, and she was tired of always being a ‘good girl’.

So you were her ‘bad boy’?

I think so, yes. Funny, really.


“Are you going to Homecoming?” she asked me, as I stood by her locker while she exchanged one set of books for another.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “I’ve never been to a dance of any kind, school or otherwise.”

“They’re fun,” she said. “You should try it.”

Some silence as we headed towards her next class.

“Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?” I heard the words, but didn’t realize my mind had formulated them. The next few seconds were agony.

“Sure,” she said.

I can’t believe that just happened, I thought.


Why couldn’t you believe it? I mean, she was a girl and you were a boy, and she obviously liked you…

I don’t remember it being obvious. It all just kind of seemed surreal.

When did it become real?


Driving her home from the dance, we turned into her neighborhood. I will never know what question I intended to ask.

“Is there –”

“Yes,” she interrupted. “Go straight here, past my house, and then turn right. There’s a place down by the water.”

This is happening, I thought. This is really happening.


Another magical night we spent was out at the beach, a few miles from where my wife and I are staying as I write this. That night, during winter break after graduation, was our last night together. I had set up a fire and a picnic out on the beach, with wine and music. We were shielded by dunes on three sides. I had friends watch it, then move off as they heard us coming, so as we climbed over the crest of the last dune, it was like a fully sprung nighttime picnic has showed up on the beach, with blankets and a fire. But that was the end. She went back to school and got with the guy she’s still married to almost forty years later.

Did you love her?

Yes.

Did she love you?

Yes.

Why didn’t it last, then?

Love… married love is about building the other person up. We couldn’t do that for each other. She found someone with whom she could, and so, eventually, did I.

So, no regrets?

If you have no regrets, it wasn’t really Love.

Sugar Makes Me Sad

Sugar makes me sad, and I’ve had WAY too much today. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do it anyway.

I’m not a diabetic, which is serious, but I… have found I can depress myself with just a slice of pie. Sometimes, to fritter time, I’ll eat a thing I should not eat; I’ll think it’s just a morsel, just a little something sweet…

And hour later: crash, and I am worried and dejected. It’s stupid, it’s my own damn self from whom I need protected! It’s sad to choose wrong things, and end up like Rehoboam — like trying to write an essay, and then finding its… a poem.

Her Name Was Grace

I’m in my bed, reading, about 10:30 at night, when my twenty-three year old daughter pops her head in. She’s so beautiful, in her glasses, smiling to see me still awake.

“Has it been a long day, Dad?”

“Yes. What about you?”

She grows a little more animated as she starts to tell me about how the work day went. Her image and her voice grow blurry within my dream, as I desperately try to hold on to what she is saying, what she looks like. But I can’t – she’s fading.

She’s gone.

Her name was Grace. She died six months into term more than twenty-three years ago. But she still visits me in my dreams, some nights.

I always know it’s her.

My ex-wife and I had a son after that; the doctor figured out why it happened and we got a baby to term. We then split up about three and a half years later. I remarried a couple of years later, to a woman who had three daughters, ages 10 to 16. That was eighteen years ago.

But still she makes these visits. Because every child we have, and every child we don’t have, aren’t just part of us, they are us.

The best part of us.

The eternal part of us.

I wish I could have held her once, and told her that her Daddy loved her.

So I tell her in dreams, and in whispered prayers before I go to bed at night. Even after all these years.

Her name was Grace, you know, and she was my beautiful daughter.

And she always will be.

Ashen

I’m out here, in the one place where uniformity of opinion makes sense, that is, by myself. And I still can’t manage it.


The air is ashen with the smell of woodsmoke, floating over from distant chimneys. My skin is ashen from the unaccustomed cold; it’s 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees Celsius). It is supposed to warm up rapidly later today, rising above freezing by around noon.

This being the southern United States, and the roads being frozen, my workplace was closed yesterday, as was the local government. I had a few conference calls that went on, but otherwise, I stayed inside, writing poetry for the other site.

Our sleepy neighborhood has had more than its share of excitement this week, with one of my neighbors being shot at (seventeen times) and a car having skidded off the road yesterday uphill into our yard and back down again, which left an interesting set of tracks. Neither my wife nor I heard it when it happened; I was in the back writing, and she was one room over, watching a movie.

The gunshots I had heard the morning before last, a little after 5:30 in the morning. Our neighbor interrupted four or five men robbing his truck and was shot at for his trouble. He hit the deck in his carport, and his wife closed the carport door from inside; luckily, no one was hurt.

The real world is violent, ugly, and messy. So I write a couple of highly stylized blogs, and use exquisite watercolors like the one attached to this essay (© Maryna Kriuchenko | Dreamstime.com); I also listen to beautiful music, and spend a certain amount of time hoping the outside world won’t impinge on my world of escapist fantasy.

But it always does, in the end; for me, and for everybody else.


In my twenties, I developed the following theory. I ask for some indulgence from any of you who may have heard this before.

There are two types of people in the world: those for whom life is boring, and who therefore seek excitement; and those for whom life is stressful, and who therefore seek peace.

For reference (although most of you will know this already) I am in the latter category.

These categories do not exactly correspond to extroverts and introverts, nor to night people and morning people, nor any other division I know of under some other name.  There are, however, some large areas of overlap.

Because I was frequently looking for dating opportunities at that age, and because the proportion of people in each category seemed to be roughly 3:1, I came to the same conclusion that other young people like I am had come to; namely, that I needed to go where the excitement was if I wanted to meet women. The most popular of these types of place was, where I lived, dance clubs and bars. So I went there.

There was just one problem — I hated being in those places: too loud, too competitive, too stressful. I was self-conscious as a dancer and no good as a drinker.  I was extremely unconfident about my own appearance, or, rather, I was confident that my appearance would win me no contests among women. While I did occasionally find someone who’d dance with me, I got no phone numbers, and, essentially, met no one.

My therapist then gave me, at around age twenty-eight, some really good advice. He said to go somewhere where I could meet women and men, and which involved an activity that I wanted to do in and of itself, regardless of whether or not I met anyone I could date. This resulted in me getting into community theater as a pianist or musical director. I like theater and love to play, and I’m decent at it, so I was actually there for a reason and not just hoping to hookup with somebody.

I made a number of new friends and met some people I ended up dating, including the woman who became my (now ex-) wife.

To people more advanced, socially, than I was, the advice I got might seem obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, and so, it was good advice. It got me out of situations where my concentration was on how uncomfortable I was, and into a situation I was enjoying for what it was.


A few years ago, when probiotics were first introduced to the wider market, my son made the joke that he thought

“… we could at least all agree on being antibiotic. I mean, has the pro-bacteria lobby really infiltrated our society to such a degree that people and products are now proudly displaying their probioticism?”

Which I thought was hysterical. I’ve often repeated the joke since.

When the Internet first came into wide use, its proponents touted its capacity for “bringing people together”. This has no doubt been true, in many senses; politically, however, people are as polarized as ever, and, arguably, more so.

Because of the oddities of maintaining a fictitious identity as a writer, I have two Facebook pages under my real and pen name. Between the two pages, while there is some overlap, two diametrically opposed views of the world are dominant, and neither even acknowledges that the other view exists, accept to parody and vilify it.

All views are accessible to all. Yet, I find that many people have no real idea of the reasons (where there are any) that political figures they admire are criticized.

And this goes for both sides.

The conclusion I draw, oddly enough, has nothing to do with politics, which is, to my eyes, as it ever was. The conclusion I draw is about technology. Tools, of whatever kind, are not intrinsically good or bad; its their use that makes them so. All power to do things can be used either way. The Internet is neither good nor bad, except insofar as how it is used.

Another way to say this is that the Internet has made both facts and propaganda more accessible, and contains no better mechanism to distinguish the two than we had prior to the Internet.


I was notified a few minutes ago that my office is opening this morning in spite of the roads still being frozen over, because it has been long enough, I guess. Being the cautious type, I may wait a little longer before venturing out, as my two-wheel drive bumper-car would probably go straight off the road the first block.

But I’m kind of two minds. Even when I’m by myself.

You Don’t Say

… or, I don’t, at least. Often.

Readers of this and the other blog may have noticed, on occasion, that posts will appear briefly, then disappear. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed with other people’s blogs as well, indicating what might be called “posting regret”. This is where the writer decides, upon further review, “no, I didn’t really want to post that.”

In my case, in virtually every instance, the deleted post is (a) angry; (b) about me; or (c) both. I’m not afraid of expressing anger, but, typically, rereading these, I think “there’s a better way to get that point across” or “no one is going to know what I was getting at, there”.

Like most authors, I want readers to feel, or to think, upon reading; unlike some authors, however, I do not really seek controversy (some amount is unavoidable). Fights don’t change minds, they just bruise bodies and spirits.

Understanding often comes, though, in less dramatic and more unexpected ways…


I went to lunch with a female coworker a few days ago.

She’s brilliant, in her mid-thirties, and we’ve been friends now for something like seven years. She’s also very beautiful: stylish, elegant. Born and raised in eastern Europe, and separated from the land and family of her birth, I’ve probably become something like a second father for her.

After we each ordered our meals, I asked her how things were going at home.

“Not great. We’ve agreed to … co-parent. [They have three children.] He’s a great father. When I get home, dinner is on the table. I get to spend all my time with the kids when I’m there.”

“Do you avoid him?”

“Yes, pretty much. I avoid him, and I avoid thinking. When we were on vacation during the holidays, and there would be moments of downtime, I read books. I read five books in a week. I can’t have time to think, or bad things would happen.”

I didn’t ask her what ‘bad things’ she meant; I thought I probably knew.  The only thing lonelier than being alone is being with someone you can’t connect with.


It had warmed up a little by lunchtime, so we walked in the tiny park behind the restaurant.

“What about you?” she asked. “This job has been killing you this last year.”

“Yes, it looks like they are going to move me.”

“What have you been doing for stress?”

“I work out, and… I write, as it happens.”

“I did not know that. What do you write a book, a blog, what?”

“A blog. I don’t really talk about it at work. Or anywhere else, come to think of it.”


As we entered the building where we both work, we stopped before going our separate ways.

“Thanks for driving to lunch.”

“And thank you for inviting me. It’s good to get out.”

“It’s nice to get a chance to catch up.”

“Yes, and it’s nice to have someone listen.”

“Even to what we don’t say,” I added.

“Especially to what we don’t say,” she rejoined.

Seal Lullaby

Rudyard Kipling is one of those poets almost every literate English speaking adult has heard of, even if they know very few of his poems. The poem “If” is probably his most often-quoted one, in my lifetime. I don’t know that many people could name more off the top of their heads. Here, however, is one I read for the first time today, from “The Grey Seal”:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

It’s a lovely poem, really, but it was the following choral setting of it that had me absolutely transfixed. It’s worth a listen to with headphones if you have them.

Beautiful choral music had a way of bringing tears to my father’s eyes, I remember, and it does mine as well. This certainly did.

Trolls Do Not Need Reasons

“Sorrow knows no seasons,
Trolls do not need reasons.”

We had around eight consecutive hours together yesterday, mostly in the car. As usually happens when we get the chance, our conversation ranged over almost every conceivable subject. At one point we were discussing a couple we know whose marriage is rapidly deteriorating, even though their problems seem relatively minor.

“… they are each so anxious to prove that they are the more aggrieved party, neither one is really trying to fix their problems,” she concluded. “They look at counseling like it’s a court that can convict the other person, and prove themselves right.”

“So it has become a contest each one wants to ‘win’,” I summarized.

“Yes, even if ‘winning’ means losing everything.”

Her text message alert went off, so she spent a few minutes there as I drove along, thinking.

When she was back from that, I said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that’s why online trolls do what they do. They neither believe nor even care what they are saying, they just want the fight.”

“I picture people like that,” she added, “friendless, stuck at home, proving they can make something happen, no matter who it hurts. Like that guy who faked the 911 SWAT team call and got some poor guy killed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That was horrible. What was that text about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Remember Gary and his wife, Josetta? Her brother committed suicide a few days ago.”

I was stunned. “What happened?”

“They don’t really know, yet. I’d heard he’d had a lot of problems over the years. And the holidays can be so hard on people.”

We stopped a few minutes later to get gas and buy some salt water taffy. I carried her purse out to the car to warm it up while she spent a few extra minutes inside, and my brain constructed the little couplet affixed to the top of this essay, apparently encapsulating our recent conversation.

As she ate her Reese’s cup, I had some taffy.

“I didn’t even know they still made that stuff,” she said.


Photo credit : me, view from our hotel this chilly morning.

Are, Too!

I recently made a six hour drive, through mountains, in the rain and fog, to watch Star Wars : The Last Jedi with my twenty-two year old child.  We also got about three hours worth of visiting with each other in. Then I had to drive home.

I naively thought, in my early parenting days, that if I loved my children enough, and always had time for them, they would be happy. I now realize: that’s simply not true, and it never was. The dependency our children have on us when they are small, and the intensity of our own love for them, combine to create the illusion that we have (MUST have) the power to provide them everything we would want to provide.

But we can’t; or at least, I can’t.

As for the movie itself, I will say this: I grew up in the world of perpetual fictional reboots you get with comic books and adventure series (like the Hardy Boys). Different writers see those worlds and characters in different ways, and each series goes through seasons shaded by the views of different creative teams — which I tend to like, as a feature. In fact, were you to go back to Batman issue #300 (circa 1976), you find a page-long letter from 13-year-old me, under my real name, talking about this exact feature, and extolling it. I hate to refer to anything so mundane as my real name, but, there you have it.

I like variety. I enjoyed the original Star Wars trilogy, I enjoyed the prequels (yes, I did; and yes, I know I seem to be the only one), and I have enjoyed these new Star Wars films. Would I do it differently if I was in charge? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate different imaginings of that universe and those characters.

I talked to my child afterwards, and the review there was positive as well. I also got a follow-up positive review of my parenting, so the visit seemed appreciated.

I spoke to my mom on Christmas day, and it was bad. She wasn’t quite sure who I was, and when she realized who I was, she didn’t really care. I found out later that she had a cough and so had kept herself confined to her room for the week (she lives in an assisted living facility), and that her boyfriend had gone home for the week, as well. In other words, she was having a bad week.

It blows my mind to think of it, but, when my mom was born, not only were moon rockets and television a thing of the future, Hitler had yet to be named Chancellor in Germany. Things like “Star Wars” were certainly far beyond her dreams as a child. The changes of the world can weigh us down, too, along with all the other grief and loss that comes with aging. So, you find what joy you can in family while you have them — even when they don’t seem to be getting that much joy out of you.

“We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda says. Our children typically outgrow us, as we did our parents, and they did theirs. Which I find oddly comforting, for some reason. There is unity in the acceptance of differences.

There is also peace in the acceptance of change. So peace to all of you, with whatever changes you might be experiencing… even if it’s uncomfortable changes in your favorite film series.


Photo credit : ID 77103536 Clif Haley | Dreamstime

Images

I was watching a documentary on World War II, and I realized how ridiculous it all is. I mean, the Hitler character is clearly a Mary Sue. He’s some kind of Austrian corporal or private, and then suddenly he’s dictator of most of Europe. It strains credulity.


I was looking at some photos of my wife and myself way back when we got engaged, and I had forgotten how outrageously good looking we were:

To be fair, my wife actually IS that good looking. I look more like someone you’d try to identify in a police lineup.


Most dramatic scenes in the history of… dramatic scenes:

3rd Place: The death scene from “La Traviata”.

2nd Place: The scene in “Terms of Endearment” where the mom has to say goodbye to her sons.

1st Place: My four year old grandson, when he thinks no one will play with him.


Of course, I have a lot of room to talk about being overly dramatic. This is pretty much me:


Here’s an actual picture of my wife and I, getting ready to set out on a road trip: